2014 New Year’s Resolutions for Safety Professionals

by Phil LaDuke

Last year I wrote a list of New Year’s resolutions for Safety Professionals. The piece proved popular and people this time of year seem to come looking for them. I decided to write this piece without looking at the previous list and after doing so taking a look at them to see if I am capable of any sort of growth. 2014 has been a rough year for me. I lost my father-in-law and one of my few remaining uncles to work-related illness and despite by best efforts through writing and speaking and working I don’t seem to have changed anything, not a single mind. But this time of year makes the best of us reflective and after doing some soul searching and reflecting I came up with a short list of things I think we as professionals can do to be even more effective:

  1. Seek first to understand before seeking to be understood. Okay, I borrowed this one from St. Frances of Assisi but I think safety practitioners need to adopt it, especially those of us who sell safety services and solutions. We need to listen to the organization and ask probing questions—not in an attempt to lead people to our preordained solutions but so that we can understand their pain points, we cannot solve a problem that we don’t fully understand.
  2. Keep things simple. When we offer advice we need to do so because we truly want the other to benefit from our wisdom and experience not because we want to show off or demonstrate our brilliance. The best advice I have received in life was simply stated and to the point. Perhaps the absolute best advice ever given me was a single word, “stop” (my friend Ken said to me as I was about to mindlessly walk into the path of speeding Chicago traffic). We don’t need to write grand, self-serving treatises to be effective.

We have become a profession of theorists who, when proven wrong, change the rules. We need to get back to basics, as my boss if fond of saying “the best companies get the basics right and they get them right every time”. So what are the basics? Competency, Risk Management, Process Capability, Accountability and Engagement. But on an even more basic level we need to tackle the basics of hazard identification, containment, correction, and communication.

  1. Be kind. I know it may sound hypocritical of me to preach kindness but as a wise man once said to me, “make the day, don’t let the day make you”. To a large extent what we send out comes back to us and when we are kind people are more likely to be persuaded by us than when we are jerks. Besides, being the safety jerk is my job. When someone has been injured they are particularly vulnerable, “I told you so” or “you should have…” never soothed an injured worker.
  2. Serve the Organization. I spent last weekend poring over incident reports and Workers’ Compensation reports and I was struck by how often we assume the injury was intentional until proven otherwise. Are their liars and cheats who want to fake claims? Sure, but far more of the injured are victims and if we just lived our lives in service to the organization instead of standing in judgment of the injured we would see that most injuries are painful, embarrassing moments in the lives of workers. Do we have to protect the company against fraud? Absolutely, but let’s resolve to do so without treating everyone as criminals.
  3. Collaborate. We cannot be successful trying to do this alone and we have to swallow our pride and reach out to other disciplines. I have seen so many safety professionals wrestling for control with the continuous improvement group only to have both groups remain impotent in the organization. Reach out and help someone and ask for help in return; at the end of the day we’re all in this together.
  4. Teach. To be truly safe workers need to be able to do their jobs and they need to have mastered their jobs. I wrote this to a safety executive once and he wrote me back with scorn. “Why do they have to master their jobs?” he scoffed at me. I resolved right then and there never to do business with him. I don’t think he can be reached and if he can learn, he cannot learn from me.
    But in answer to his question, why do they have to master their job? Because the level of mastery of one’s job equates to the level of risk one operates under while working. Workers who don’t know how to do their jobs—or our just marginally competent—are far more likely to be injured or to injure another worker. This is most acutely evident in how companies view training temporary workers; in the minds of many better to kill a temp than to waste money training one. It’s ugly, but it’s true.
  5. The more we sharpen our skills as safety professionals the more good we can do, but I’m not talking about learning the latest safety fad. We need to learn how our businesses work, how our organizations survive, and how our companies make money. We can’t change anything unless we know how our businesses work. Instead of going to the same tired professional conferences and hearing the same tired speeches from the same tired hucksters why not attend a business seminar, or a Lean Management course? You will be a better professional for it.
  6. Safety is a tough way to make a buck, and it’s getting tougher. Hang in there, this isn’t a job for quitters.

Last year I gave you 10, but this year only eight. But I will make you a bargain. If you do these eight come see me and I’ll give you another 10.

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